Thursday, November 15 2007

The Dork / Dark Side

Steven den Beste recently posted about his feeling of finally succumbing to the dark side, by which I read that he's finally realizing that he's an Otaku.  I can't speak for someone as articulate as he is, but it sounds like he's experiencing the same realization that comes to mind every couple of weeks.  I'm not normal.  I've got a weird hobby.  And at some level I honestly don't care what people think.

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November is a busy month for me.  I'm preparing to attend my second convention in as many weeks.  Last weekend was Fall-In, the Historical Minatures Gaming Society convention in Gettysburg, PA.  This weekend is AnimeUSA in Arlington Virginia.  This is my first time at Fall-In, and it was definitely fun.  I've been to Anime USA for several years in a row.

The absolutely scary realization is that these two conventions are populated by similar people and yet that realization would probably never occur to most people at either con.  The differences are obvious.  The people at Fall-In are older, almost all white, almost completely male.  A lot seem to be veterans of the armed forces.  They tend to be patient and completely relaxed when not engaged in "battle".  All are history buffs.  Anime con-goers are almost all young, and generally represent a thorough cross section of American youth.  Most are hyper energetic and impatient, and a fair number seem to be smart but bored and therefore detached from the educational system.

Many anime con-goers definitely have an exhibitionist streak, and I seem to be the only person at Otakon without a novelty t-shirt with an anime or gaming related logo on it.  Yet a fair number of the gamers at Fall-in have novelty t-shirts, only instead of the scantily-clad anime babe on the front they tend to have old Soviet propaganda posters or artist renditions of their favorite multi-ton war machines, and the reduction is due in part to the much colder weather in November.  Both cons have people who specialize in looking for the rarest of finds in the massive deal rooms, and dealers with home-made merchandise that can be a real treasure to find.  Both conventions tend to have people talking in their own specialized hobby jargons, and impromptu groups of strangers going late into the night talking about their mutual interests.

Back to Steven's observation about crossing over onto the dark side, it's there lurking beneath the surface at Fall-In just as much as it is in the fledgling Otaku.  And it's lurking beneath the surface only because it's too big to make out.  A demotivational poster sums it best:
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"Call it what you want.  They're still toy soldiers, and you're still playing with them."

Is that what we're doing?  On the one hand, no, it's not.  No one consciously thinks of the army on the table before them as a set of toys.  Yet I occasionally find myself making shooting noises as the game goes on because I'm having fun.

Ironically enough, I got in to Flames of War because of an anime-styled model I picked up at an anime con.  I have a German army because I gave the wrong model number to the merchant in the dealer room; if I'd given the right number, I'd probably have a British army instead.  I always was a history buff;  I started enjoying reading in elementary school when I found heroic tales of the Second World War.  I played with little green plastic army men.  Then in high school, I gravitated towards sci-fi, which got me in to anime in college.   I also got in to board gaming in college, as well as any other sort of gaming which challenged my mind.  However, being cash strapped, I was stuck with one expensive gaming hobby, and that was CCGs.  (I'd briefly been burned on Games Workshop miniatures games in middle and high school.)

A few years back, a friend who was in to historical wargaming put forth a simple proposition to our group.  He wanted to play AK-47 Republic, a simple game simulating a civil war in a hypothetical African state during the cold war.  The armies were small, and the equipment was interesting enough, so I went in with the game and produced an army, and found it was kind of fun to do.  Two years later, I have two big Flames of War armies in addition to the AK-47 Republic army.

Here are three StuG III G assault guns for my Germans:
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The camouflage for these three is a bit odd.  German tanks late in the war are generally green and brown over a dark yellow ("dunkelgelb") base.  These three have a beige base, similar to the camouflage colors of the German infantry smocks.  It's not a big deal;  the paint scheme works.  But where did it come from?  An anime con a few years previous.  I ended up walking home from the con with her:
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I find good anime and anime-inspired character designs to be fascinating uses of color and shape.  I had seen a few pictures of World War 2 aircraft based figures (known as Mecha Musume), and when I saw tanks I had to pick one up.  I had asked the staff in the dealer room for the model next to her, a British Valentine tank, but I had walked off with my purchase before I realized I had a German tank instead.  At that point, my knowledge of the vast array of German armored vehicles was slim, but I could make out the Schurzen armor skirts alongside the tracks, and was pretty sure I was looking at a long 75mm gun, so I guessed she was a Panzer IV H.  I was already doing 15mm models for AK-47 Republic, and decided I wanted a model of the actual tank to compare to the figure, and the Flames of War series was available and had Panzer IV H's, so I picked one up and put it together, and found it was easy.  Since Flames of War seemed to be attracting a bigger base of gamers than our little game, I decided that setting up an army for it would give me more chances to game.  After checking the books, I put together an American rifle company and away I went.  When I was starting a second army, I realized I had one Panzer already, and decided to do some Germans as well (which was a good thing;  German armor is easier to use than British).

There was one problem with the whole thing.  The wargame model didn't match the Mecha Musume.  Specifically, the Schurzen and the base of the gun looked wrong.  Here's an artists sketch of the Mecha Musume:
The two road wheels on her "rear deck" give it away.  Every picture and model of a StuG III G that I've seen has those two rear road wheels mounted on the rear deck, and one of these days I'm going to research why.  The StuG III G often has Schurzen, shaped slightly different than those on the Panzer IV, and the 75mm gun has that block just above the barrel where it protrudes from the hull.  When I eventually made some assault guns for my Germans, I paid tribute to the model that started it all.  I've also got a Sherman Mecha Musume as mascot for my Americans.

To sum up my point, you're only as young as you feel.  The point of having a hobby is to enjoy yourself and relieve stress.  It might not be laugh out loud fun, but if you're not having a good time, you're doing it wrong.  Be it wargames or legos or anime figures or *shudder* watching sports, it should be something you enjoy, dark side or no.

As for the dark side of anime, it's not when you look at your desk and realized that you purchased an anime figurine that you realize that you've succumbed, it's when you find yourself doing this:

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If you're curious, Fraulein Sturmgeschutz has white pantsu.

Posted by: Civilis at 09: 30 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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